I was talking with some friends recently and heard about a situation with their U10 athlete. I use that term a bit tongue-in-cheek as we used to refer to these individuals as children. But this "athlete" was no longer playing soccer in the Fall because her softball coach wanted committed athletes on his team. They needed to work year round on the sport of their choice. Now, let's be clear. I've been around the U10 crowd quite a bit in my years of coaching and parenting. One thing I know for sure is that their choices from one day to the next will vary greatly, and their experiences are certainly significantly limited at that point of the "athletes" career. Again, the sarcasm, I'm sorry, but a 9-year old shouldn't have a career.
Now, I've always encouraged my children that once they make a commitment to a team, that commitment lasts the length of a season. It's not fair to their teammates to leave before and it's not giving the game itself a fair shot for their own experience. Joining a team and living up to that commitment IS one of the life lessons that youth sports provides. But beyond that, it was THEIR choice as to what sport to play. It is THEIR childhood and THEIR limited precious time in the sun, or pool, or playground, or yard.
I can also tell you that children in their teens shouldn't be suffering from repetitive motion stress injuries. I'm reminded of the article from when John Smoltz was inducted into the Hall of Fame and called for an end to the craziness of travel baseball. Sorry John, 3 years later and I only think the "epidemic" of the "travel ball" mindset has deepened. And trust me, I say that and still love what the game brought to my child and myself as a Father. But my daughter did suffer a stress fracture in her pitching arm when she was a freshman in high school after seasons of Summer and Fall ball, right into a hard played and practiced Winter indoors. The Orthopedist instructed us that it would be best for her growing body to get a solid three months off from pitching each year (something most travel coaches would be dismayed to hear). We tried to squeeze some of that in during summer and before field hockey. What I can tell you is that my daughter never pitched faster than when she was pitching only once a week during high school field hockey when they worked sprints every day in practice. Her legs were never stronger and her pitch was the benefactor. Cross-training works.
The facts are that kids need to try things. We call these competitions "games" because that is what they are supposed to be. Games to be "played" and enjoyed, not "worked" and stressed over. Don't let the college scholarship carrot dangling out there drive YOU to force your child into a something they don't want. I've seen far too many outstanding high school athletes stop the sport they have starred in at the college level because it's the first time they had the "choice". It's also a fact that there is more money out there from colleges for academics and community service than for sports. And the final fact is, their time is limited. Their childhood ends and the demands and commitments of life will take over. Enjoy sports with your child. Expose them to MANY! Give their body the variety of activities to keep it healthy and strong. Give them the experience they need to choose well for themselves.
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